Schools play a significant role in helping refugee children integrate into Western asylum countries, according to new research by psychologists at City University of London.

Based on interviews with refugees who had arrived in England and Denmark as children, the new findings show that schools can provide a safe and stable setting where refugee children can develop meaningful and constructive connections to peers, teachers, and other professionals. Schools can also act as a safe place where discrimination, racism, and stigmatization can be actively countered.

The study also sheds light on the importance of providing appropriate training for teachers who are working with refugee children. This includes training teachers with the specific skills needed to work with refugee families and to support children in the educational setting and making sure sufficient collaboration strategies and referral systems are in place when clinical or therapeutic interventions are needed.

“Our study highlights the importance of schools and teachers when considering prevention and intervention strategies in broad and inclusive terms,” said lead author Sara Thommessen.

“Speaking to refugees who settled in England and Denmark as children, we found that it’s important to consider connections between the child, family, school, and wider community, as these elements can have a huge impact on how refugee children integrate into Western asylum-countries.

“With large numbers of refugee individuals seeking safety,it is vital that we put initiatives in place to ensure that they receive the social and education support, encouragement, and guidance they need.”

Due to the increasing number of individuals who have been forced to flee their homes and countries of origin in recent years, there is an immediate need to facilitate the integration of refugee children in Western asylum countries. As a result, the need to understand how best to support such individuals, especially the youngest of them, has become an urgent matter.

For the study, the researchers looked at experiences of seven refugee adults, who had all arrived in Denmark or England as children accompanied by family members and were therefore born outside of the asylum-country.

The researchers found that in both England and Denmark, priority is placed on social and educational support, encouragement, and guidance from teachers and mentors, as well as more general support provided by friends, peers, and family members.

Offering refugee children, youth, and adults the opportunity to create meaningful and close social relationships was of central importance for positive integration and well-being, including working with families or within schools, or by strengthening connections between children, families and staff in schools.

One of the challenges that differed for the two groups was that participants in England felt stigmatized by stereotypical and racist comments, which may also have led to this groups’ strong focus on succeeding academically. The researchers suggest that restoring stability and meaning, by facilitating ethnic pride, might be one way in which to support refugee children in educational contexts.

During the interview, one participant spoke about how extra one-to-one support by a teacher at lunch time made a big difference. “That showed me, I was like, don’t give up: If you want something, work hard, then one day you will achieve something.”

Another participant also spoke warmly about a former teacher in the integration class: “She helped me a lot, not just with school but with everything — even things that had nothing to do with school. I would speak with her all the time. She was really helpful to me. Even now I still talk to her sometimes, we are still in touch.”

Another participant noted the importance of having the teachers and other professionals be fully aware of the children’s background and situations. It is necessary “that they realize these are not just typical kindergarten or preschool children, but that they have actually experienced things like war and that these children are used to a completely different society,” said the participant.

The research is published in the journal Children and Youth Services Review.

Source: City University of London